Milford librarian goes to the Oscars (sort of)
Thursday, January 24, 2013
By MICHELLE SAMPSON
For The Cabinet
Come Jan. 1 each year I make the same New Year’s resolution: to watch all of the Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. Every year I fail miserably. I came so close, back in 2007, when I actually saw three of the five nominees. Two years later, in response to cries of elitism at the expense of popular films appealing to a broader audience, the Academy elected to double the number of best picture nominees to 10. At that point, the jig was up and so were my hopes of ever fulfilling that particular resolution.
“Wait a minute,” you must be saying, “this is a librarian’s column. Shouldn’t it be about books?” Without going into how libraries are about so much more than traditional books these days (e-books, anyone?), let me assure you, dear reader, that there is indeed a tie-in.
Several years ago I began noticing that more and more movies had their genesis in books. I should amend my statement on resolutions to clarify that once I made this observation, if a nominated film was based on a book, I also tried to make sure I had read the book for comparison’s sake. Because nothing says “New Year’s resolution” quite like stipulations that make it as difficult to complete as possible, right? The trend of movies based on books has continued – grown, even – and I’m not sure if it speaks to the stellar writing that’s out there or the lack of imagination and creativity on the part of screenplay writers. Granted, films based on books still need to be adapted into screenplays, but the conceptual bones are there from which the body of a film may be formed.
This year, four of the 10 films nominated for Best Picture are based entirely or in part on books; three of these are also nominated in multiple other categories. “Lincoln” is partially derived from historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.” The other three films stem from novels: “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel; Matthew Quick’s “Silver Linings Playbook”; and the classic “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo.
As the saying goes, the book is always better than the movie. I’ll withhold judgment on whether or not the films vying for Best Picture this year live up to the books upon which they are based. That said, it’s relatively rare – though not uncommon – that a film is equally as good as its book: “The House of Sand and Fog” (Andre Dubus); “Mystic River” (Dennis Lehane); “The English Patient” (Michael Ondaatje); “Misery” and “Stand by Me” (Stephen King); “The Age of Innocence” (Edith Wharton) and the original “Wuthering Heights” (Emily Bronte) all come to mind as films doing justice to their novel counterparts.
The trend of bringing books to the big screen isn’t going away anytime soon. I found reference to no fewer than 40 films due to be released this year based on novels or non-fiction. Banking on the popularity of the “Twilight” series, Stephenie Meyers’ stand-alone adult novel “The Host” will likely have “Twihards” flocking to theaters in droves this spring. The popular young adult series “The Hunger Games” will continue in film with the release of “Catching Fire” later this year and a long loved series among teen readers of science fiction will debut with Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game.”
Literary classics won’t be left out as William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” makes its debut as a feature film and Joss Whedon releases his remake of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The one I’m anxiously awaiting, however, is Baz Luhrmann’s remake of “The Great Gatsby.” Literary purists tend not to like Luhrmann but I find he has a way of taking a classic work, such as his remake of “Romeo & Juliet,” and translating it into modern times for younger generations. Leonardo DiCaprio starred as Romeo and as a (then) teen idol, I think it’s fair to say he drummed up more interest in Shakespeare among teens and young adults than the best efforts of the world’s English teachers combined. As an interesting side note, DiCaprio also stars in “Gatsby” as Jay Gatsby.
Classics aside, popular fiction usually makes up the greatest percentage of books turned into films. Yet another Nicholas Sparks novel will be released just in time for the Biggest Date Night of the Year; his “Safe Haven” debuts on Valentine’s Day. Get ready for the resurgence of raptors in April: Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” is due to reappear in 3D Imax theatres. Stephen King’s classic “Carrie” will be released in time for Halloween; I can only surmise that those who saw the original will have a hard time imagining anyone other than Sissy Spacek in the lead role.
Towards the end of the year, the recent craze in zombie fiction will repeat itself on the big screen with the release of Max Brooks’ “World War Z” starring Brad Pitt. And speaking of Stephen King, his son, Joe Hill, writing under a pseudonym, will see his novel “Horns” in film. It should be interesting to see if Harry Potter fans are drawn to this horror story starring Harry himself – Daniel Radcliffe.
But back to the Oscars. The Academy Awards will air on Feb. 24 which gives me approximately six weeks to see all 10 films nominated for Best Picture. But then there’s the tiny matter of that stipulation: reading Quick, Goodwin, Martel, and Hugo. Oh, who am I kidding. Resolutions are made to be broken, right?
For more information on the films mentioned in this piece, including trailers when available, see the Internet Movie Database: www.imdb.com. For all things Oscar, go to www.oscars.org.
And as always, check out your library for copies of any of the books (traditional, audio or e-books) mentioned in this piece as well as the films as they become available on DVD.
Now can someone please pass the popcorn?
Michelle Sampson is director of Milford’s Wadleigh Memorial Library and can be reached at www.wadleighlibrary.org.